Bridge Theater to honor DeGroff

W inifred (Winnie) DeGroff, 79, of Glens Falls who was buried earlier this month in her native Whitehall, will be honored this summer as the Bridge Theater at the Whitehall Armory dedicates its summer season in her honor and memory.

DeGroff was among the Whitehall community leaders who helped form the Bridge Theater in 2000. Now she will have the rebirth of the theater dedicated to her during its first season at the Whitehall Armory.

Born in Whitehall, she graduated from the town’s high school exhibiting a great love in the arts and followed this appreciation by studying art and theater at Alfred University. Equally adept in music, art and sports, she also pursued writing and was offered a scholarship at the Syracuse University journalism school.

But, according to friends and relatives, theater proved to be a most important part of her life in Whitehall and Washington County. For 11 years, she was a leading actress with the Fort Salem Theater in its summer season productions and eventually encouraged the formation of the Potters Players, a community theater troupe in Whitehall. Here she gathered local actors to present comedies, dramas, dinner mystery theater presentations and eventually historical works.

The Potters troupe began at Skene Manor, where DeGroff was a charter member for the restoration of the 19th century castle-like building with its original owner, judge Joseph Potter of Albany, giving her theater troupe its name.

Eventually, this same local group of actors presented the first play done at the Bridge Theater, a unique structure built right on the Clinton Avenue bridge at the northern end of the Champlain Canal.

Susan Ingerson of Whitehall, a lifelong friend who met DeGroff in first grade, was encouraged by her to act with the Potters Players and eventually played leading roles in original plays at the Bridge Theater.

The theater was active in summer productions until 2009 when the structure was discovered in tests by New York State engineers to have structural flaws making it imperative that the theater cease operations.

By this time, illness had forced DeGroff to curtail theater activities but she remained in contact and encouraged her former actors in their continued work with the theater.

The wife and widow of the late Thomas G. DeGroff, the couple settled in Whitehall and raised seven children, 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

While her children were in school, she began work with the General Electric Corp. as a drafting designer, retiring after 30 years with the company.

The Bridge Theater’s Saturday performances start July 7 and continue through Aug. 25.  Information is available at 518-874-0800.                 

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